It is well known within cricketing circles that it is the bowlers (mainly stated by themselves) who win games of cricket. Taking 20 wickets in Test cricket has always been the key component in winning any game or series, but this Ashes series in Australia looks likely to be decided by the batsmen, rather than the bowlers.
The last drawn Test match between Australia and England was back in August 2013 and with both sides demonstrating their brittleness under pressure over recent months, few would back against there being five results in this series. Aligned with the fact that this series is in Australia, rather than England, where the climate and conditions are somewhat more reliable than they can be in the UK, we should see results in all the Tests.
Batting in Australia for any touring side takes some adjustment. Mainly it is the extra pace and bounce and whilst some grounds are not quite a quick as they once were, the extra hurry will take some time to adapt to. We have seen from both sides in the last couple of years that if they get behind in a game they find it very difficult to stay in it, and in Australia this is even tougher. South Africa managed to win there only a year ago and they did so by scoring enough runs when it mattered to put Australia under pressure.
With the hostile crowds that England will encounter, the ability to put Australia on the back foot and seize the initiative is one that they must take if they are to have any success. In 2006/07 and 2013/14 they were never able to get footholds in the games because they could never put enough runs on the board to apply pressure to Australia’s top order (with the exception of Adelaide in 2006). Credit must go to the opposition as well in those instances but certainly in 2013/14 the bowlers took enough wickets to have won a couple of games for England, but it was the batsmen who crumbled, mainly in the face of Mitchell Johnson, and failed to contribute enough to create score board pressure.
In 2010/11 England had a settled top four that was able to score heavily. This gave the bowlers something to defend and put pressure on Australia, the notable exception being the Perth Test, which England lost. In the opening Test match in Brisbane they scored 517/1 in the second innings to ensure the game resulted in a draw and then followed it up by scoring over 600 in the second Test to win by an innings. It is this consistency in making big totals that will prove to be the deciding factor on this tour.
Neither side quite boasts the calibre of player that were so abundant a decade or so ago, but the series should be still be competitive. Steve Smith and Dave Warner are countered by Alastair Cook and Joe Root; James Anderson and Stuart Broad are countered by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood. There are certainly many other talented players in both squads but both sides know the other’s weaknesses and fundamentally it is that they are both brittle. Both can be got at and both are more than capable of losing a game in a session.
It is for this reason that the series will be decided by the batsmen because the side that scores the most should win the urn. The most recent series resulted in two victories by an innings (one each), one by over 400 runs, one by 169 runs and the other by eight wickets. These sides don’t do draws against each other; they smash one another.
The margins will be fine when the series commences but the momentum will swing this way and that throughout. Whoever dominates with the bat will provide the platform for their bowlers to take wickets and build pressure and as both sides have proven in recent months neither of them are very good at batting in those circumstances.
By Andy Hunter